Two months ago, I was asked to give a 45-minute presentation to 125 aspiring leaders at General Electric. As I prepared for the talk, I thought about the most important leadership lessons I had learned over the last 20 years. One of the most important lessons, and now a pillar of my leadership philosophy, is to be authentic.
I sheepishly have to admit that this was not always the case. Early in my career I developed a misguided belief that I could be someone different at home than at work. This is not uncommon and often a symptom of early career maturity. Eventually I found this exhausting, inconsistent and deceitful.
In Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? Drs. Gareth Jones and his partner Rob Goffe present their findings on leadership from research they conducted over 25 years. Their conclusion is that eventually all leadership styles become fads and are unsustainable. Their solution is that the individual leaders must be themselves—authentic.
Three Principles of Authenticity
Drs. Jones & Goffe invite us to be more ourselves, but with skill. Here are general guidelines to help us get started:
• Consistency between words and actions: Do what you say you’re going to do, all the time. Trust is delicate. It takes repetition to build, but only one move to destroy it. This is a good reason why you cannot be two personalities—one at work and one at home—because eventually the inconsistencies materialize according to your nature.
• Provide a common thread in your role performance: Be consistent in your behavior, weaknesses and strengths. Unlike other leadership books, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? encourages us to be vulnerable with our weaknesses, as long as they are not detrimental. Use common sense; be practically truthful, mindful that being authentic does not mean you share all your character defects. Yet, stay humble enough to let others see that you too are on a developmental path and do not have all the answers.
• Be comfortable with your origins: Remain true to your roots and whole persona. We are all unique human beings with our own life stories. Even if you had alternative beginnings than what you perceive to be the mainstream, be open about those. Being transparent will help people connect with you at a deeper level.
Application of the Book
At first blush, you may dismiss the book’s insight as a “no-brainer.” On the surface the concept is simple. But its simplicity, like a simple diet, is only realized by living it out every day.
Today, I find myself extremely transparent at work and consistent with my character at home. I’m comfortable with the non-duplicity this affords me. I believe that this has also helped me in my career, managing large, matrix and remote teams. It’s also helped me live a more fulfilling life—in and out of work.